Last Friday, Lil’ Kim released Black Friday, a diss track to counter the release of Nicki Minaj’s debut album Pink Friday.
When I heard the track, I had mixed emotions. Truthfully, my first thought was “Why is Kim hating on Nicki?” Surely, we don’t need that. And given that Kim seems to be washed up and almost entirely out of the game, it most assuredly sounds like some hateration.
But I listened again to the track, and listened as Kim chided Nicki for being a “Lil Kim Clone Clown.” As Kim put it, “I mothered you hoes.” And I thought of all my conversations with young folks who think Nicki Minaj is the next coming. It make sense since most of them were maybe 5 or 6 when Kim debuted, and just a little older when she reached her zenith. It’s a classic case of generational amnesia and of the propensity of young folks to think all the hotness begins with them.
So what I realized is that if nothing else, Kim provided a much-needed history lesson. “You lames tryin’ to clone my style and run wit it. That’s cool, I was the first one wit it.” And in many ways, she was.
Considering all this, I was forced, in the midst of myriad reactions, from Hip Hop heads and feminists to rethink my position. So I began by posting the clip on the CFC FB page. Many of you did not receive that move well, and felt that I was glorifying in-fighting among women in a way that undercuts sisterhood.
But I beg to differ. As a feminist who loves (some) Hip Hop, I have watched sadly as women have literally been silenced in the mainstream in the last decade. Yes, I know that women have a vibrant presence in the underground, but I also know that the masses of folks aren’t tuned in to the underground. Moreover, the mainstream—the overground—is the primary battleground upon which images of Black women are commodified, reified, and re-entrenched.
So while I believe the critiques of Kim in this instance are to some extent legitimate, particularly when folks talk about the ways in which her timing seems opportunistic, on the whole I think they are somewhat shortsighted.
For instance, I disagree greatly when folks suggest that the diss-pute between these women is unproductive. One of the pillars of Hip Hop artistry is the rivalry between emcees. In fact, one of the Hip Hop sisters whom we all celebrate is Roxanne Shante’ who launched her career on a diss track. Yes, she was critiquing the sexism of UTFO’s Roxanne, Roxanne. But she was also showcasing her ability as a rapper and a lyricist.
So we could knock Lil’ Kim for being opportunistic, but given the Black male take-over of Hip Hop in the last decade, opportunities for women to get it in in the mainstream are few and far between.
Moreover, this notion that women in Hip Hop should either play nice or or take a (10-year) timeout is a kind of paternalistic infantilization that seems especially un-feminist to me. As Joan Morgan said in a recent facebook post, “Hip Hop doesn’t have to be positive to be good.”
And therein lies my point. This is a moment of creativity and generativity. It is a moment where one woman has challenged another woman to defend the validity of her art and her talent. Perhaps, we think that such competitive activities are masculinist by their very nature, and therefore inherently lacking in utility for women. And perhaps the models for women should be different. But every woman that has made her way in Hip Hop has done so by usurping spaces and practices that are presumed to be male and reimagining them as a space to rearticulate female possibility.
I think what is particularly infuriating is also what is perhaps most radical. Kim claims to have mothered Nicki, but she isn’t a doting mother by far. And because of our narrative of mothering, we expect that Kim should play nice and be excited to have a daughter. But when Lil Wayne styled himself as Tha Carter (emphasis on the definite article there), Sean Carter wasn’t overly enthused. Jay-Z has since embraced Wayne, but it took a moment. And no one cried about how Jay-Z was being rude. Now this was because in many ways Wayne was considered an illegitimate upstart who had no business comparing himself to someone with Jay-Z’s talent.
That’s really the issue here.
Most of the men with whom I’ve debated this issue, and it has been primarily men who’ve made this argument, keep suggesting that both Kim and Nicki have ghostwriters, and that Kim has no talent. In other words, both of these women should just go sit down with their cutesie catfight. Can we say sexism?
So you have women suggesting that women shouldn’t fight each other, even though it is a time honored part of the art form, and men suggesting that the battle is whack off top because neither of these women is a legitimate lyricist to begin with.
And this is precisely why I think this battle is good for women in Hip Hop. It suggests that we don’t have to play nice to participate. It challenges narratives that attempt to turn Black women of a certain age into mothers against their will. It represents another instance where Kim has done what she always did best for Hip Hop—challenge the narrative scripts of Black womanhood.
Last week, Nicki was declared the Queen of Hip Hop.
I balked. Just like I balked after Ashanti was declared the Princess of R&B. Even Halle Berry knew when she won her Oscar, that there were a many, many women who should’ve graced the stage before her, and she acknowledged this in her acceptance speech. In this day and age, where our collective memory tends to be short, it’s a title Nicki should relinquish. Making appearances on umpteen remixes and dropping one album does not a queen make. The Queen Bee challenged her progeny’s right to the title. And I, for one, am glad she did.